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The Ritual And Tradition Of Writing A Letter By Hand In The 21St Century?



thesmellofdustafterrain

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thesmellofdustafterrain

Tell me more about writing letters.

 

I know the basic idea, where we put the date at the top, words in the middle, and our signature at the end. But for an art steeped in ritual and tradition, I suddenly realized I know next to nothing about the art of writing letters.

 

As I've been practising my penmanship, I got thinking that maybe it would be more fun if I had an external motivation to work on my letters. Maybe finding some penpals would help build my confidence (and help me use up some of my stationary so I have an excuse to buy some more). I found some potential penpals, but when I sat down to write a letter, I realized I know nothing about the modern patterns of writing letters by hand. So I do what I always do when I don't know enough: I head to the library.

 

My library has 9 books about writing letters; all but one (an example of historical letters) written in the 1980s. It seems to be a time when the art of letter writing was fading so quickly, that people desperately tried to keep it alive by setting out really strict rules that no one would ever be able to live up to. The three exact shades of blue or blue-black, and one shade of black that were appropriate for writing, the weight of paper and the kind of watermark for each kind of letter, seems a bit stuffy to me. Another book begins by stating how it is going to avoid letter writing history because it is boring and unnecessary, then promptly spends three chapters talking about exactly that. The rest of the content was about business letters... all very boring. Time to ask the experts.

 


 

I want to know your thoughts about letter writing.

 

What is your favourite historical letter writing tradition?

 

What tradition or ritual are you glad to see disappear?

 

Is it still considered a grave offence to use coloured ink (especially green)? Or maybe it's okay in certain occasions?

 

What format do you make your letter?

 

Is it still "the worst of all sins" (as one book put it) to use a return address label?

 

What words of encouragement do you have for someone new to letter writing?

 

 

petrichor

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Date and address are helpful. Appropriate salutation. Write in your own voice with whatever clearly legible, non eyeball searing ink you like. Sign off.

 

Don't expect an in kind reply and you won't be disappointed. Continue to write that person anyway, unless they ask you to cease. Which is unlikely, in my experience.

 

The only rule, in my view, is to be pleasant.

"Simplicate and add Lightness."

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I agree with Karmachanic. Here are some additional remarks, for what they are worth.

 

Tradition for personal letters when I was in elementary and secondary school was: Upper right of first page, city, state (street address unnecessary), first line, date on second line; drop two lines (or approximately if using unlined paper), begin with "Dear friend (or name)", comma, drop one line and indent. Indent each new paragraph. End in line with the city, date at the beginning, use "Sincerely," "Sincerely yours," "Truly," etc., any number of pleasantries, your name underneath.

 

I still use this basic format, but I generally only put the date at the beginning; the recipient knows where I am. Sometimes I am writing from somewhere other than my home, and I'll include the city/state for possible interest.

 

Ink color doesn't matter a d**n these days, as long as it's not a blinding neon or such, and it's easily legible on the paper. Several of my penpals, and I, often use more than one color within one letter, depending on mood. On the other hand, I have one penpal who uses only grey ink, and she generally uses grey papers; but she chooses well, and there is always sufficient contrast to be legible. Legibility is the key to paper and ink color choices.

 

What to write about? If it's the first letter to a potential correspondent, I make it a short introduction, describing some of what I enjoy, what I do for a living, a little about my family, something about where I live. Use good judgment if asking about the recipient's activities, etc. Avoid politics and religion unless s/he has specifically led you into remarking on those subjects, say in a posting here on the FPN; e.g., I make it plain that my political philosophy is generally left of center and my religious leaning is skeptical.

 

If my recipient has shown an interest in any sort of visual art, I might enclose a small print of one of my landscape photographs. I have several penpals who always, or frequently, include some small bit of their artwork, sketch, watercolor, photograph, etc.

 

If I am replying to her/his letter, I try to address any specific query, and then move on to more recent events. Discuss at least a little of what s/he has shown an interest in.

 

Not much to it, no hard and fast rules, other than just to enjoy the back and forth, as one would if meeting face to face and chatting.

 

Whatever, do it, and enjoy it!

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I date my first page and number all the rest. It's only courtesy but many don't think to do it.

 

Formal letters barely exist any more; most of my correspondence is with friends, some of whom I have been writing to for forty or more years.

I write about what I am looking at, what I'm thinking about, what I'm doing, what I'm hoping to do, and I try to be entertaining, even witty, but I don't strive for effect. There is nothing formal about my letters. I will include amusing illustrative doodles, change ink colors, and do pretty much whatever I feel like.

I'm a writer by training and inclination, and it comes very easy to me. The main thing to do is relax and have fun.

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Is it still considered a grave offence to use coloured ink (especially green)? Or maybe it's okay in certain occasions?

 

For me Any ink although if using Noodler's Blue Ghost, some warning required! Maybe to certain parts of the world, avoid red inks.. One of the 19th century etiquette books mentioned a local (somewhere in US?) fashion for violet ink! Also, mentioned that lined paper shouldn't be used for social correspondence! I'm happy to write/receive letters on lined paper!

 

What words of encouragement do you have for someone new to letter writing?

 

Letters are a conversation between two people, perhaps later becoming friends.

 

What makes a good penpal letter, not entirely sure but the letter should be written with genuine interest in the person you are sending to, perhaps with stories, anecdotes... This can be done in a first letter too. Replies, do try to take note and comment on at least a few things written to you. Respond to questions, respond to other things with your experience - The letter said - "We have just returned from two weeks in France.." and you could reply with "We visited Paris twenty years ago....." and take it from there.

 

What tradition or ritual are you glad to see disappear?

 

Addressing the letters, I don't usually use titles, such as Mr or Mrs, and especially not Mrs [husband's first name] [husband's surname].

 

As for traditions in general - well, there's some traditional practices in life going back centuries we wouldn't tolerate now (and would even be illegal).

 

 

A website of interest is http://www.lettersofnote.com/ - there's also two volumes of letters available as books. Some of the letters are written between penfriends. I haven't finished the second volume but did enjoy the first volume.

Edited by aworldofsnailmail

!

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BaronWulfraed

Unfortunately... I've been corrupted by early 70s typing classes...

 

If NOT using letterhead stock: return address and date in upper-right (forget the exact rule -- something like put date on line 13, so return address is just under 2inches from top [6 lines per inch]; with left edge of it being page center).

 

Inside address (destination) on left margin some three lines below date.

 

Salutation two lines below inside address.

 

Body text...

 

Closing aligned with return address.

 

Typed signature three lines below that (leaving space for written signature).

 

 

Since then, I've configured a Word template for "letterhead" style return address (18pt Caswell Open Face done in a shade of pale grey). But the rest is still that business style (I never did like the all-left block format)

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I love letter writing, everything from choosing the pen ink and paper to having a long and winding correspondence with all sorts of people in places that I know well or will likely never go to and everything in between. I avoid inks that I struggle to read myself (unless in a little paragraph to someone who will also find it beneficial to see just how terrible that ink is (thinking of a yellow ink here that I now always mix before using).

 

I write about anything and everything but the way the conversation flows is as much about the other person and the relationship we have. It is something that I enjoy, and therefore I want to continue to take joy in it. Green or purple inks are great for making me seem like a daft old lady and I'm writing to a company that I hope will offer me a solution that is easier to them than a long correspondence - but that is a little beside the point :)

 

I don't know if you know anyone in person that you think would be up to exchanging letters, but there are lots of us around. My main thought is try it. Just start writing, some people may become pen pals, others might not, and that's ok. If you'd like to have a correspondence with people you could always put your name in the write stuff "Snail Mail writing list" and you could even ask the people who PM you in response if they'd be willing to write the first letter.

 

What would you like to get out of letter writing? Is it a medium for you to share thoughts, life, hobbies, share interests, have political religious or social discussions, what do you enjoy in your life. All of these things can be but do not have to be a part of correspondence, and you might find it changes over years and that's ok too.

 

Regards,

 

Fiona

Writing and typing with the help of cats

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Write like you were talking to me. Show me your cool inks and papers. Address it with a label, I don't mind. Light-hearted works best.Me

 

Be careful if you use a return address label. There are some people here who will steal them. :)

 

As for paper, with the pen pals here, just about anything goes. Me, I like to use MS Word to print a header and borders.

Edited by Charles Rice
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When writing with a pen pal leaving your return address off is fine. But I’ve found that you should pet your address on the first couple of letters as a help in getting a response. After a few exchanges I will get a person's name and address onto a 3 x 5 card. But I have had at least one letter I wasn’t able to respond to because the return address on the envelope had been blacked out by the stamp cancellation.

To hold a pen is to be at war. - Voltaire
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An encouragement: just write the letter! People will be delighted that you took the time to put pen to paper. Most folks won’t know or won’t care about the traditions and rules.

 

There are many letter writing traditions, covering a wide range of topics. Does the return address go on the front or back of the envelope? Are fold-over notes part of a man’s or a woman’s stationery wardrobe? Which parts of a letter sheet are to be written on and which left blank? What are the different uses for a monarch sheet and a half sheet? How do you address a letter to a professional couple? Whose first name(s) are included in addressing the envelope? Does stationery color matter? Do ink colors have significance in different cultures?

 

You can easily find a used copy of “Crane’s Blue Book of Stationery: The Styles and Etiquette of Letters, Notes, and Invitations.” You will find such immediately useful items as Debutante Invitations, Invitations to a Tea, how to incorporate your coat of arms in a wedding invitation, and what to have engraved on your calling cards.

 

Yes, many of those traditions are outdated, obsolete, or considered offensive by some. They speak of a time when thought and care was put into how a message was presented and how it appeared. Hard to do that in an email or a text. [Please don’t talk to me of emojis. Gack!!]

 

Write a letter. Find your style. Enjoy yourself. Your correspondent will.

 

gary

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

I want to know your thoughts about letter writing.

Almost all the rules and guidelines for writing letters I learnt decades ago have gone out the window in the meantime with the Internet, and all the modern-day practices that came with it, and the 'changing of the guard' to the generation(s) born after the IT revolution.

 

Using 'Dear ‹blah›' as the salutation is about as quaint these days as hearing old ladies addressing others – outside of their families – as 'dear', ironically more so in personal correspondence than what are obviously form letters sent by organisations (using computer automation, or at least templates). I don't call my fiancée or my friends 'dear' when I talk to them, and so I don't do so in the name of good form, when I'm composing personal correspondence.

 

The intent and/or 'good taste' of penning a letter entirely in red (or a colour redder than rust) is still questionable in my mind, since even now we (are taught to) still highlight 'warnings' and 'alerts' embedded in emails, web pages and reference documentation in red sparingly. Green has never been a problem. Legibility should always be a primary consideration; if someone cannot easily read what you've written (and that includes, but is not limited to, your choice of calligraphic hand), then never mind what the actual content contains.

 

Emails, by default, get timestamped for when it was sent. (N.B. That is not logically the same as when an article of letter post is postmarked, even if the local mail distribution hub still stamps a date on the envelope; some don't these days.) As far as I know, the date (and time) at which the content was written is not captured in the metadata. Writing down the date at the top of the letter, to let the reader know when you had started composing its contents (and thus assume the information was true and/or known to you as of that date), is therefore meaningful is an epistemological way.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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Just start writing. I'm not much for banal pleasantries like "I hope this letter finds you well," and so on. Jump in medias res of some recent scene from your life, brimming with details, descriptions, reactions. Then comment on the above and move to the next episode. My letters are often abrupt missives crafted on the inside of greeting cards, but they're memorable.

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thesmellofdustafterrain

I'm writing more letters and having fun. I'm still nervous about cursive writing a letter because I suck. But the point of this was to gain confidence with my hand writing.

 

Next question: do you have a standard way of lettering pages? Top, bottom, a corner? Do you do 1/ 2/ 3/ 4.? (the / to indicate that there are more to come)

petrichor

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I'm writing more letters and having fun. I'm still nervous about cursive writing a letter because I suck. But the point of this was to gain confidence with my hand writing.

 

Next question: do you have a standard way of lettering pages? Top, bottom, a corner? Do you do 1/ 2/ 3/ 4.? (the / to indicate that there are more to come)

I prefer upper right for page numbers — seems easier to locate.

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The advantage of upper right is that I put it there right away and am less likely to forget to number

To hold a pen is to be at war. - Voltaire
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  • 2 weeks later...
BorisoftheStars

I have never heard of letter writing traditions before, but for encouragement, I say to just write! I have a penpal, and I get excited every time I receive a letter from him! It's like heaven for me, so maybe you'll find a penpal whom you like writing to!

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Rule 1 - don't think so much :)

 

Letters to friends, or prospective friends (i.e. not for business) aren't subject to the same rules as business correspondence. Even business correspondence from a private person (as opposed to a representative of a business) doesn't have too many mandatory rules.

 

For the first letter, I always put my full address at the top right corner, followed by the date. I number all pages except the first. I usually write on both sides of the paper, so will put a little arrow in parentheses at the bottom of the front of each sheet to help the reader know to flip over the page as opposed to going to the next sheet (if there is more than one).

 

I usually use "dear xxx" as a salutation. Anything different is saved for very close friends and special circumstances. For a complimentary close, I usually use "yours truly" but you can use "sincerely" or "yours" or "until next" or whatever suits your style.

 

As for content? Talk a little about yourself and your interests, and ask the other person some questions. If responding to a letter, respond to anything in that letter that catches your fancy, and then add your own news, comments, and/or questions.

 

As for inks, I don't think it matters, especially if you're writing to another fountain pen user. If you're not, you may want to stick to a more traditional colour if you're writing to someone you don't know super well, but I think green isn't so far from the norm that it isn't acceptable; it needn't be blue, black or blue-black. Even a deep violet would be fine. Once you know someone, use any colour you like that suits your fancy - especially if you're writing to another fountain pen owner who will probably be keen to learn what colours you enjoy.

Too many pens; too many inks. But at least I've emptied two ink bottles now.

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thesmellofdustafterrain

Sad News! My pen pal received a blank letter. Pages and pages of nothing.

 

I wrote the envelope in waterproof ink, but not the letter.

 

Has anyone else had this happen?

 

Any idea how this happened? It it just from getting obscenely wet?

petrichor

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